March 24, 1982: Fernando Valenzuela ends his holdout and reports to Los Angeles Dodgers camp.
When Fernando Valenzuela won the Cy Young Award for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, the twenty-year-old, who also won Rookie of the Year that season, earned a whopping $42,500. To put that in perspective, per capita income has increased approximately 60% across America since 1981, meaning the kid from Mexico, who took the Majors by storm, pitching eight consecutive complete games over his first eight starts, was making the modern day equivalent of $68,000.
It was for that reason, Valenzuela, who sparked Fernandomania across Dodgers Nation, refused to report to Spring Training the following March until he was paid a fair wage. The popular left-hander demanded a salary increase to $850,000, about $500,000 more than what the Dodgers ended up paying him.
Unfortunately for Valenzuela, the Dodgers held all of the cards in negotiations. As a second-year player, there was no real mechanism for him to renew his contract other than to play hardball and hope the Dodgers caved under pressure to make sure the instant superstar was ready for Opening Day. Coming off their first championship since 1965, the franchise was in a strong position to stand firm. The young pitcher eventually threw in the white towel, albeit, $300,000 richer.
Valenzuela, who was nicknamed El Toro (the Bull), got off to a slow start in 1982, perhaps the product of missing several weeks of Spring Training due to his holdout. But after losing three of his first five starts, the magic returned, as he pitched complete games in six of his next seven outings, and went 17-10 with a 2.89 ERA over his final 32 starts.
Valenzuela would eventually get his big payday in 1986 when he became the highest paid pitcher in baseball by signing a three-year, $5.5 million deal. His $2.05 million salary in 1988 made him the first pitcher to make north of $2 million in one season.